Archive for April, 2010

Murder & Marginalization in Chicago: A Brief Statistical Overview

A friend’s post regarding a bloody night on the south side of Chicago where 7 were killed and 18 were wounded made me do a double take when I realized it was six blocks from my old neighborhood where I lived after I graduated from university.

Just a couple of months back in February there was a shooting about three blocks from my home in Evanston near the high school – and then another lockdown a week later for a shooting threat.

One of my former students wrote for the Chicago Now Blog Network, and they have an morbid-yet-interesting online homicide spreadsheet. Yes, the url is homicides.redeyechicago.com.

I downloaded the data and started to do a little analysis.

First of all, the racial breakdown is VERY scary.  One, according to the stats, there are no Latinos murdered in Chicago.  That’s not true…my friend S has shootings in her neighborhood all the time.

Second, with murder rates up about 12% this year, Chicago needs restoration and healing.  At this current rate, Chicago could break 500 homicides in 2010.

Third, just check out some of these breakdowns by race and gender:

Race # of Homicides Percentage
Black 353 76.74%
White 106 23.04%
Latino 0 0.00%
Asian 1 0.22%
Male 403 87.42%
Female 58 12.58%
Mean Age 28.33
Standard Dev 12.09336591

In other words, being a young African American man in Chicago give you the highest percentage of waking up dead via homicide.

I’ve spent a couple summers living among the marginalized in the West Side of Chicago, and it was there when I was introduced to Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu and some of the staggering statistics of the black community in Chicag.  The following is an excerpt from his book, Solutions for Black America.  The statistics are slightly dated since it was published in 2004.

Black median income is $32,000 versus White median income of $45,000.  Black per capita wealth is $10,000 versus White per capita wealth of $55,000.  One percent of the population owns 48% of the wealth.  Ten percent of the population owns 86% of the wealth.

Median SAT Scores:

  • Asians: 1083
  • Whites: 1063
  • Hispanics: 903
  • African Americans: 857

African Americans constitute 12% of the population, but African American males account for 43% of HIV Cases; and African American women are 64%.

In 14 of 16 health categories – diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, cancer, infant mortality, etc. – African Americans sufferers outnumber Whites.

Only 32% of African American children have fathers in the home.  The divorce rate in Black America is 66%.

In Los Angeles, African Americans constitute 11 percent of the population, but represent 47 percent of the murder victims.  In Washington DC, 1 of 12 African American males die of homicide.

Among African-American male high school students:

  • 1 in 200,000 will play in the NBA.
  • 1 in 3,700 will earn a Ph. D.
  • 1 in 766 will become a lawyer.
  • 1 in 395 will become a doctor.
  • 1 in 195 will become a teacher.
  • 1 in 20 will be incarcerated.
  • 1 in 12 will have an STD.
  • 1 in 9 will use cocaine.
  • 1 in 3 will drop out of high school.

There are 36 million “disconnected” youth in American.  These youth, 60 percent Black and Hispanic, have left high school, lack credentials, and are unemployed.

The Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics in a report entitled, “Cohabitation, Marriange, Divorce and Remarriage in the United States,” showed that Black women are facing a crisis in their relationships with Black men.  According to this study, when compared to all other racial groups, Black women are:

  • Least Likely to marry
  • Least likely to marry a long-term cohabiting partner
  • Most likely to have their marriages end in separation or divorce
  • Most likely to remain separated or divorced
  • Least likely to remarry
  • Most likely to see their second marriages end
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Avatar, Eye-Candy, & Rhetorical Racism: Moving Beyond Tokenism

(This post has been sitting on the back burner for a while, but life with school, ministry, travel, got to a point where this wasn’t able to get out when I wanted it to. Oh well – better late than never.)

I saw Avatar in the theaters and was at first in awe of visual eye candy.  No question it is one of the most visually stunning films ever produced.  I’m colorblind and I was impressed…I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a full spectrum of colors at my disposal to consider how beautiful it would be.

But as I thought about it more, I realized that Avatar was more like the magazines in the check-out aisle of the grocery store: air-brushed eye candy that is pretty superficial and devoid of significant substance or content.

Now don’t get me wrong – Avatar isn’t in the gutter with Transformers 2…that was just awful.  It was as if that film was using the article I blogged about regarding male hormones as a script to help attract men.

But in some ways, Avatar is more dangerous because people take it far more seriously.  I mean, it got a stinkin’ best picture nod.  We’ve already heard enough about the comparisons to Dances with Wolves and The Last Samurai.  Instead of Native Americans and Ancient Warriors we get supersized smurfs that bear a striking resemblance to African Tribal people.

The message of the film is pretty direct: all of the characters who are seeking to expand the empire are white American men (except the hero, Jake) and Jake becomes the hero by leaving his culture and people and saves the people who are not his own, but in the end he becomes one of them.

There are several indirect messages this sends – I could critique the film at length.  I’ll focus on two:

1. On the surface, it seems like such a nice politically correct story.  Jake becomes the hero by becoming cross-cultural and becoming one of those who were marginalized.

But let’s just think about this for sometime.  First of all, Jake might be in body one of the supersized smurfs, but culturally he is still a white American jarhead.  What does it say that he becomes the hero of this people? Why not a leader who was actually native to the planet? What is it about Jake that allows for him to become the leader of a people who aren’t his own?

I won’t leave these questions at rhetorical – I think what this communicates is indirect racism that covertly implies that the redeemed white american is one who still “saves” those who can’t save themselves.  It’s covert imperialism. It’s implying that there is something special about Jake that allows for him to be the leader of the people.

And it’s racist.

What it is indirectly saying is that the Navi people are not capable of developing indigenous leadership in order and require leadership from outside to survive attempts of cultural imperialism.  So, in essence, they are saved from cultural imperialism through…cultural imperialism.

Silly James Cameron; simplistic plot lines are for kids.

2. While this is going to sound like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, I’m going to address the other end of the spectrum here.  As I’ve said before in other posts, I’m an equal opportunity offender.  And here is where I’m walking on eggshells…and I’m about to make some omelets here.

Americans have a tendency to idealize other cultures as a reaction to being perceived as imperialistic.  I own American imperialism – it is real and it is dangerous.  It’s tragic that a standard of beauty that causes women to whiten their skin with toxic skin whiteners and receive plastic surgery.  That women view themselves in comparison to the Western standards of beauty is dishonoring and dehumanizing to their people made in the image of God.

I’ve worked with young men of several different ethnicities who feel their standard of masculinity is considered subpar to the culturally-biased stuff that is broadcast in Christian Bookstores like Wild at Heart and helped them realize their cultural form of masculinity is by no means less than that of whites.  (BTW, I liked the book. It was important to me. It’s just very culturally bound to White american men.)

Working cross-culturally when I wasn’t the dominant culture has taught me so much on masculinity and femininity that I can’t begin to describe  how much I’ve grown because of it.  Living under the leadership of those not like me have stretched me more than I ever dreamed.

I am one of the only people I know who has had the opportunity to be under the leadership of folks of four different ethnicities (Asian-American, White, Black, and Latino) and both genders for an extended ongoing period of time (at least one year). This is something that I can honestly say has been one of the greatest opportunities for both blessing and frustration, and has grown me and stretched me tremendously.

What I can say from this experience is this: power is what typically reveals cultural strengths and cultural dysfunctions.  We are getting a glimpse of this as we get more global in just a snapshot of current events that causing dissonance.

Was the apology of the Toyota executive sincere?  If it was sincere, what are we to say of the supposed management practices of Toyota that suppressed safety information that may have been contrary to that which management wanted to hear?

For what reasons are babies being born at a rate of 120 boys to 100 girls in China and Northern India?

And what are we to say about the chicken pills taken by women in Jamaica?

If you subscribe to the worldview of Avatar, and you are a white american male like myself, you shouldn’t ask these questions.  It’s offensive.  The rules say you are only able to focus exclusively on the positives of other cultures.

But that methodology is only good for entertainment purposes at a theater…and it’s worth about $10.

When we subscribe to the worldview of Avatar, we idealize the minority on the one hand, demonize the majority on the other, and indirectly say that we the ideal minority is unable to develop it’s own leaders and has to import them from the demon majority, we live in a dangerous world that is unable to move to reconciliation.  Our response is even more dangerous: tokenism.

The response leads to develop minority leadership that is “token” in nature – in other words, minorities are put in leadership for the sake of their presence as minorities in order to appease internal white guilt.

And it’s belittling to minorities.

I got a glimpse of what it means to move beyond tokenism as a part of the search committee that brought the new pastor of my church.  We did not know that one of the leading candidates we rated for our pastor was a Jamacian born Black man.  As we continued throughout the process, we were very up front and honest with him about recent issues of race that were divisive in our church to the point of a staff person leaving.  Evanston is a diverse community, but our church is about 85% white.

Yet it became clear to our entire committee that this was the man whom God was calling to our congregation.  We knew we were asking this man to enter into something potentially difficult.  And as we made the decision, we even received racist hate mail.  But the decision has been clearly one that only God could have orchestrated in his timing, and one that only could have been led by his Spirit.  Not a spirit of political correctness, not a spirit of tokenism, but one that is reconciling people to each other and to God.

And I had a front row seat for an incredible show.

As I worshipped at our installation of the Pastor, I couldn’t help but realize the shallowness the worldview of Avatar.  Like the name of the film, it’s only skin deep.  It will never allow the deepest wounds to be healed. It will just be a vain superficial cover.  Real reconciliation requires moving beyond tokenism, image management,  and simplistic cultural caricatures to true understanding through authentic friendship.

And truthfully, that is just harder than most people really want to work.  But I still hope and dream that in my lifetime we move beyond eye-candy ethnicity and toward real reconciliation.

Vomiting & Facebook: Purging from Social Networking

(Warning: This post involves a real live story on vomiting. It’s gross. Let the weak-stomached stop reading here.)

I love my nephews.  Really, I do.  But today I had one of those moments where being the uncle was…well, not all it’s cracked up to be.  Or as in my case today, chucked-up to be.

My brother hands me his son this Easter Sunday as he’s rushing to take care of some some odds and ends as my sister-in-law is directing the church choir while 9 months pregnant. We joked that the best thing would be for her to be transported directly to the hospital to go in labor after she stepped off the platform.

I’m holding little David, and he’s crying because he misses his Daddy.  Or at least that’s what I think.  I walk around and start reading the stuff on the Sunday school bulletin board…various animals and other interesting factoids for your typical 19-month old boy.  And then, he stares at me, gets all quiet, and…

…decides to share his slightly digested breakfast of egg casserole over my blazer and tie.  Such a sweet natured boy.

Kiddo-puke smells a lot like adult puke. Nasty. This isn’t the formula or breast-milk puke. This is egg-casserole puke.

(Ironically, as I’m wiping up the chunks, I realize I’m in the same room at my boyhood church that as a seven-year-old boy seeing a girl in youth group blow chunks.  For some odd reason, I vividly remember partially digested hot dogs on the floor. It was totally a traumatic event.)

I’ve visited enough hole-in-the-wall restaurants and traveled in enough developing regions of the world to be well acquainted with the symptoms of food poisoning.  And honestly, I’m a big fan of vomiting.  Nothing feels better when you’ve got the flu or food poisoning then letting it all out. Beats the dry heaves any day.

As some may remember, I gave up Facebook entirely for Lent and I did something I’ve never done before: I gave chose to fast from meat for six of seven days a week (with some exceptions of course).

Going off facebook entirely felt like vomiting from food poisoining.  It was like purging my body of…well, you name it. Voyeurism. Self promotion. Approval addiction. Status seeking. All the crap that facebook does to people.

Facebook doesn’t really “do that” – it’s just a mechanism to draw our junk out of us.  And this isn’t to say it happens with everyone. Some of you I’m sure are actually holy facebook users.

I missed seeing friends with whom I don’t often connect.  But all in all, it was nice to be off.  As I went more than six weeks without logging onto facebook, I wasn’t thinking in terms of status updates or this comic…

from xkcd.com

While it was difficult at first, I’m so glad I did.  I honestly don’t feel a strong desire to go back to it.  And I don’t think in terms of status updates anymore.

That being said – what is an appropriate use of facebook? And what is inappropriate?

Northwestern InterVarsity Students in the Chicago Tribune!

A great piece on my good friend Sandra Van Opstal and her staff Max Kuecker, Beth Hedges, and their work with the Chicago Urban Program.

I’m so proud of my students – CUP Alumni T, L, & K – you make me so proud.

“One of the common criticisms of Christians is, ‘You guys have your Bibles and your churches, but what about the real world?'” she said. “CUP helped bring it together. … It’s not, ‘We’re going to fix Austin by picking up a few pieces of trash.’ The real distinctive thing about CUP is the discussions.”


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